Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Make Me Watch A Musical - A Star is Born

Last week I told you about Warner Bros. new boxed-set of twenty movie musicals, and had you vote on three I should watch. Here I reviewed Victor/Victoria, and here I reviewed 42nd Street. And now onto easily my far and away favorite of the three.

If you'd have told me a week ago that I'd have run to go and download a Judy Garland album because of this "Make Me Watch a Musical" project I've been plowing through, I'd have call you a dirty filthy lying liar. And I'd have been right, too! Because I didn't do that. But only half right I guess, because after watching A Star is Born I want to go and do that (download the album, that is; not call you a lying liar - never that!). And coming where I was coming from that's not just half the battle, or three quarters, that's really like three thousand percent of the battle. But I get Judy now. I totally get the phenomenon (specifically I suppose of a homosexual sort) of idolizing her. She is idol worthy. And not as just the porcelain figure in a blue-checked dress, pink-cheeked, eyes up towards the sky that she's been for me - as something bigger and notably messier, and all the more wonderful for it.

We should step back and take note of the fact that I'd only seen her in The Wizard of Oz until this movie, which means that I have now seen her in The Wizard of Oz plus this movie, so my new-found understanding is presumably only scratching the surface. (ETA - Oh and Judgement of Nuremberg, I've seen that too.) Oh Oz is beyond reproach in my eyes - like most of us I grew up with it, and it's an inextricable part of me as much as any other movie so foundational to American childhood. What else is there? There are only a handful of movies so universal. So Dorothy was set. And I understood from there the deep sadness under her persona - how simultaneously (paradoxically, competitively, life-ruiningly) delicate and forceful she was all at once. She could put on a happy face and fool you right up until she was breaking your heart.

But man alive that didn't make this adult version of all of that whirlwind jazz any less of a revelation. No doubt she took to a role so steeped in what she was herself going through with conviction, but it's so raw and unexpected at times I could hardly stand to look at the screen. It's uncomfortable and open in that way only something approaching a deeply personal yet unspeakable self-truth can be. I suppose that was part of her problem - Judy (like her daughter, natch) seemed unable to not give and give and give well past the place that was any good for her. She became the tornado. She picked us up and showed us the sights - the bright, the bizarre, the dangerous and the lovely - never heeding the oncoming crash, just spinning around and spinning around, smiling while pulling out her hair, pulling down the curtain on the entire world with her.


JA said...

I just wanted to talk about Judy in the review so let me add here that james Mason is also really wonderful in the film, and Cukor's direction is ace. Just a really solid and moving film in every aspect. Thanks guys for making me watch it!

Laird Miller said...

one of the best movies period, imho and so nice to read a fresh take on it. nicely done

Anonymous said...

"I Dreamed a Dream" is a great way to win an Oscar, but "The Man That Got Away" is the real deal.

Anonymous said...

beautifully put

John said...

I can't believe that until a few days ago the only movie of Judy Garland's I've seen is The Wizard of Oz. I saw Judgment At Nuremberg, it's long and her part is small. The concentration camp stuff was very depressing. I've seen Victor/Victoria a few times JA but not recently and it's good. I saw Barbra's version of a Star Is Born on VHS (I know) years ago but never her version (I am curious).

joel65913 said...

JA if you are looking to expand your Judy viewing she elevates all her films of course but some are better than others.

Nothing beats A Star Is Born or Oz but her last I Could Go on Singing is extraordinary in its way. More of a drama with music than a traditional musical since all the numbers are ones she performs in a concert setting.

She looks a bit rough around the edges but especially when she's preparing to go on stage its probably the clearest picture of her on film. Plus there's a killer scene with Dirk Bogarde that is full of pain and self awareness that she just nails. It's currently streaming on Netflix.

For a lighter more straight forward musical Judy Meet Me in St. Louis is great although it has its dark edges too.